From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Mary Holmes College won't open this fall

Date Fri, 29 Aug 2003 17:32:52 -0500

Note #7912 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Mary Holmes College won't open this fall
August 29, 2003

Mary Holmes College won't open this fall

Trustees say they're exploring troubled school's options

By Evan Silverstein

(Editor's note: This is a revision of an earlier story.)

LOUISVILLE - Financially troubled Mary Holmes College in West Point, MS, is
suspending operations for the fall semester.

The trustees of the 111-year-old college said they are continuing to explore
ways of addressing its more than $2 million in debt, and filing for
bankruptcy is among the possibilities. But they said no decisions about the
future of the historic, Presbyterian-related institution have been made
beyond closing for the fall semester.

The small, private college has a long, proud tradition of educating
African-American students, but in recent years it has faced mounting
financial pressures, many related to declining enrollments and a
deteriorating physical plant.

"Mary Holmes College has met the educational needs of young men and women for
more than 100 years," said Mary Davidson, vice chair of the board of
trustees. "Many of its graduates, who have given their lives in service to
the church and to their communities, would not have been able to receive a
college education had it not been for Mary Holmes."

In light of the school's financial condition, the Southern Association of
Colleges and Schools (SACS) voted last December to withdraw its
accreditation. Mississippi education officials also had put the school's
accreditation on probation.

The college appealed the SACS decision, but the withdrawal of accreditation
was upheld in April, making Mary Holmes ineligible for federal education
funds. The PC(USA) estimated that the school had received $3 million in U.S.
support in 2003. That money was pivotal, because it paid staff and faculty
salaries and provided financial aid to almost all of the approximately 250
Mary Holmes students.

"We celebrate our proud heritage, and though we are sad at having to take
this particular course of action, we know it to be a responsible action,"
Davidson said. "We are hopeful that the proud tradition of Mary Holmes
College will live on through its graduates."

The decision to suspend operations for the fall semester came during a
special called meeting of the trustees at West Point on Aug. 22.

With the fall semester fast approaching, the loss of crucial federal funding
and the prospect of losing monetary assistance from the Presbyterian Church
(USA) at the end of the year, the trustees were under a lot of time pressure.

The Rev. Floyd Rhodes, interim associate director for higher education of the
General Assembly Council (GAC) of the PC(USA), said the church supports the
trustees in their decision. He said students have been notified that Mary
Holmes will suspend operations in September.

The college found itself saddled with debts totaling about $2.5 million after
years of mismanagement, low enrollment and neglect of campus facilities. The
debts include a $456,000 loan approved by the GAC in 2001 and $491,000
borrowed from the U.S. Department of Education for a dormitory renovation.

As a historically racial-ethnic college, Mary Holmes received money from the
PC(USA)'s annual Christmas Joy Offering. The denomination owns most of the
college's property. In May, the steering committee of the GAC's National
Ministries Division recommended that the church stop paying Mary Holmes'
operating expenses from the Christmas Joy Offering. That matter was to go
before the GAC at a meeting next month.

During a June 17 conference call involving school trustees and PC(USA)
officials, a six-member committee of trustees was appointed to create a
long-range plan for paying the school's debts and keeping its doors open.

Earlier this month, however, that committee recommended shutting down.

Mary Holmes College, founded in 1892 by the Presbyterian Church's Board of
Missions for Freedmen, was known originally as Mary Holmes Seminary. It was
named for the wife and mother of the school's principal founders, the Rev.
Mead Holmes and his daughter, Mary, who wanted to honor the senior Mary
Holmes for having dedicated her life to helping former slaves.

The school, originally in Jackson, MS, was dedicated to the Christian
education of young women, specifically "to instruct black girls in the
domestic sciences."

Private schools such as Mary Holmes became the primary producers of black
teachers in the American South, and for decades, Mary Holmes graduates were
in great demand. The high school department was closed in 1959, whereupon the
school became Mary Holmes Junior College.

Mary Holmes was owned and operated for many years by the Board of National
Missions of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States America, the
old "northern church," a predecessor denomination of the PC(USA). It was
granted a Mississippi state charter in 1969, becoming a separate entity with
its own board of trustees.

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